COVID-19 and climate change redraw the map of the world’s safest cities

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Mark McCord, Writer, Formative Content


  • Copenhagen topples Tokyo from top spot of EIU’s annual World’s Safest City Index.
  • Survey includes environmental safety for the first time to test city sustainability pledges.
  • Wealth and open government linked to increased urban security.

Copenhagen has been identified as the safest city on Earth, ousting Tokyo from the top spot it had occupied in all previous surveys by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The Danish capital scored highest in the fourth edition of the World’s Safest Cities Index, the first to be compiled since the pandemic threw the world into economic and political shock. It’s also the first to include environmental safety as one of the survey’s pillar measurements – a key reason behind Copenhagen’s rise above the Japanese capital.

The top 20 cities for health security during COVID-19
The top 20 cities for health security during COVID-19 Image: Economist Intelligence Unit

The challenges that mass movement of people will present has also been identified by the World Economic Forum. Its Future of Cities initiative recognizes that urbanization is presenting new sets of challenges in the digital age. It seeks to harness technology and environmental protection policies to promote urban centres that are safe, stimulating and productive.

City sustainability

The pressing need for better sustainability planning to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement has led cities to introduce green policies. But the Index compilers said urban leaders needed to be held to account on putting those measures in place.

It’s hoped the new Index category will illuminate whether leaders are putting their words into deeds.

Gino Van Begin, Secretary-General of Local Governments for Sustainability, says: “Cities progressively over the years have come to understand that the more environmental security they have, the more health security and other kinds of security they have.” Cities, net zero carbon, environment, energy

What is the Forum doing to help cities to reach a net-zero carbon future?

In a major step, nine cities and more than 70 organizations in 10 different sectors have come together to build further momentum for a new multi-year initiative: Net Zero Carbon Cities.

Together with the Forum, they have created a vision for the future and launched a new framework to help cities rethink urban ecosystems, ensuring that they are greener, efficient, resilient, circular and more equitable.

From policy-makers to businesses, city administrators, civil society and the financial sector, the World Economic Forum is convening a range of stakeholders with a role to play if global cities have a chance of reaching the net-zero carbon goal by 2030.

Companies can join the integrated approach to help shape city ecosystems to become net zero carbon by joining a Forum platform. Find out more in our impact story.

Top scorer

Copenhagen was the highest scorer in the personal security category, which rates cities according to citizens’ risk of crime violence, terrorist threats, natural disasters and economic vulnerabilities.

It was sixth on the environmental list, which examines how cities have built sustainability and carbon reduction measures into their planning policies. Wellington topped the list while Tokyo was in 12th position, explaining its descent from the top spot it had occupied since the Index was launched in 2015 (COVID prevented the publication of an Index last year).

Copenhagen took the number-three spot, behind Sydney and Singapore, for digital security, a measure of citizens’ ability to freely use the internet without fear of their online privacy being violated.

On health safety, which gauges the quality and availability of health services, the Danish capital was relatively lowly ranked at 26th, way below Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong at the top.

And it trailed Sydney and Singapore in a gauge of the safety of its urban infrastructure, which was measured according to the quality of the built environment and its resilience to natural disasters.

Functions of cities are interrelated and need to be planned to work together to keep citizens safe, the report concluded

COVID has “led us to think about the kind of cities we want to live in, a reconsideration that, in turn, has led us to reassess longer term dangers in the way of achieving safe, sustainable, liveable cities as well as opportunities for getting there”.

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